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21. Prophecy Against Babylon

1The burden of the wilderness of the sea. As whirlwinds in the South sweep through, it cometh from the wilderness, from a terrible land. 2A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous man dealeth treacherously, and the destroyer destroyeth. Go up, O Elam; besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease. 3Therefore are my loins filled with anguish; pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman in travail: I am pained so that I cannot hear; I am dismayed so that I cannot see. 4My heart fluttereth, horror hath affrighted me; the twilight that I desired hath been turned into trembling unto me. 5They prepare the table, they set the watch, they eat, they drink: rise up, ye princes, anoint the shield. 6For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman: let him declare what he seeth: 7and when he seeth a troop, horsemen in pairs, a troop of asses, a troop of camels, he shall hearken diligently with much heed. 8And he cried as a lion: O Lord, I stand continually upon the watch-tower in the day-time, and am set in my ward whole nights; 9and, behold, here cometh a troop of men, horsemen in pairs. And he answered and said, Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the graven images of her gods are broken unto the ground. 10O thou my threshing, and the grain of my floor! that which I have heard from Jehovah of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you. 11The burden of Dumah. One calleth unto me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? 12The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: turn ye, come. 13The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye caravans of Dedanites. 14Unto him that was thirsty they brought water; the inhabitants of the land of Tema did meet the fugitives with their bread. 15For they fled away from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war. 16For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of a hireling, all the glory of Kedar shall fail; 17and the residue of the number of the archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be few; for Jehovah, the God of Israel, hath spoken it.

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1. The burden of the desert of the sea. The Prophet, after having taught that their hope ought to be placed, not on the Egyptians, but on the mercy of God alone, and after having foretold that calamities would come on the nations on whose favor they relied, adds a consolation in order to encourage the hearts of the godly. He declares, that for the Chaldeans, to whom they will be captives, a reward is prepared; from which it follows, that God takes account of the injuries which they endure. By the desert 6262     “This plainly means Babylon, which is the subject of the prophecy. The country about Babylon, and especially below it towards the sea, was a great flat morass, often overflowed by the Euphrates and Tigris. It became habitable by being drained by the many canals that were made in it.” — Lowth.
    FT320 The allusion appears to be to the use of the name “Coniah” instead of “Jehoiachin.” “Though Coniah ... were the signet upon my right hand. Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol?” (Jeremiah 22:24, 28.) — Ed

    FT321 Lowth remarks, and quotes Job 1:19, and 37:9, and Zechariah 9:14, in support of the statement, that “the most vehement storms to which Judea was subject came from the great desert country to the south of it.” — Ed

    FT322 See p. 37

    FT323 See vol. 1 p. 341

    FT324 See vol. 1 p. 494

    FT325 “Vivacity is here imparted to the description by the Prophet’s speaking of himself as of a Babylonian present at Belshazzar’s feast, on the night when the town was surprised by Cyrus.” — Stock

    FT326 “The corn (Heb. son) of my floor.” — Eng. Ver.

    FT327 “Of Dumah there are two interpretations, J. D. Michaelis, Gesenius, Maurer, Hitzig, Ewald, and Umbreit understand it as the name of an Arabian tribe descended from Ishmael, (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30,) or of a place belonging to that tribe, perhaps the same now called Dumah Eljandil, on the confines of Arabia and Syria. In that case, Seir, which lay between Judah and the desert of Arabia, is mentioned merely to denote the quarter whence the sound proceeded. But as Seir was itself the residence of the Edomites or children of Esau, Vitringa, Rosenmüller, and Knobel follow the Septuagint and Jarchi in explaining דומה (Dumah) as a variation of אדום, (Edom,) intended at the same time to suggest the idea of silence, solitude, and desolation. — Alexander

    FT328 See vol. 1 p. 265

    FT329 “Brought water (or, bring ye, or, prevent ye) to him that was thirsty.” — Eng. Ver. Calvin’s version follows closely that of the Septuagint, εἰς συνάντησιν ὕδωρ διψῶντι φέρετε, and agrees with other ancient versions; but modern critics assign strong reasons for reading this verse in the preterite rather than in the imperative.” — Ed

    FT330 It would appear that, instead of “geminus est sensus,” some copies had read, “genuinus est sensus;” for the French version gives “Cependant l’exposition que j’ay mise en avant est plus simple;” “but the exposition which I have given is more simple.” — Ed

    FT331 “From the swords,” or, for fear (Heb. from the face.) — Eng. Ver. “From before the swords.” — Stock. “From the presence of swords.” — Alexander

    FT332 See vol 1 p. 496

    FT333Diesque longa videtur opus debentibus.” — Hor. Ep. I.21. Another reading of this passage, which gives “lenta“ instead of “longa,” is not less apposite to the purpose for which the quotation is made. “To those who perform task-work the day appears to advance slowly.” — Ed
he means Chaldea, not that it was deserted or thinly inhabited, but because the Jews had a desert on that side of them; just as if, instead of Italy, we should name “the Alps,” because they are nearer to us, and because we must cross them on our road to Italy. This reason ought to be kept in view; for he does not describe the nature of the country, but forewarns the Jews that the destruction of the enemies, which he foretells, is near at hand, and is as certain as if the event had been before their eyes, as that desert was. Besides, the prophets sometimes spoke ambiguously about Babylon, that believers alone might understand the hidden mysteries, as Jeremiah changes the king’s name. 6363    {Bogus footnote}

As storms from the south. He says from the south, because that wind is tempestuous, and produces storms and whirlwinds. 6464    {Bogus footnote} When he adds that “it cometh from the desert,” this tends to heighten the picture; for if any storm arise in a habitable and populous region, it excites less terror than those which spring up in deserts. In order to express the shocking nature of this calamity, he compares it to storms, which begin in the desert, and afterwards take a more impetuous course, and rush with greater violence.

Yet the Prophet appears to mean something else, namely, that as they burst forth like storms from that direction to lay Judea desolate, so another storm would soon afterwards arise to destroy them; and therefore he says that this burden will come from a terrible land. By this designation I understand Judea to be meant, for it was not enough to speak of the ruin of Babylon, if the Jews did not likewise understand that it came from God. Why he calls it “a terrible land” we have seen in our exposition of the eighteenth chapter. 6565    {Bogus footnote} It was because, in consequence of so many displays of the wrath of God, its disfigured appearance might strike terror on all. The occasion on which the words are spoken does not allow us to suppose that it is called “terrible” on account of the astonishing power of God by which it was protected. Although therefore Babylon was taken and plundered by the Persians and Medes, Isaiah declares that its destruction will come from Judea; because in this manner God will revenge the injuries done to that nation of which he had promised to be the guardian.

2. A harsh vision. As the object was to soothe the grief of the people, it may be thought not to be appropriate to call a vision, which is the occasion of joy, a harsh vision. But this refers to the Babylonians, who, puffed up with their prosperity, dreaded no danger; for wealth commonly produces pride and indifference. As if he had said, “It is useless to hold out the riches and power of the Babylonians, and when a stone is hard, there will be found a hard hammer to break it.”

The spoiler. As Babylon had gained its power by plundering and laying waste other nations, it seemed to be free from all danger. Although they had been a terror to others, and had practiced every kind of barbarity and cruelty, yet they could not avoid becoming a prey and enduring injuries similar to those which they had inflicted on others. The Prophet goes farther, and, in order to obtain credit to his statements, pronounces it to be a righteous retaliation, that violence should correspond to violence.

Go up, O Elam. Elam is a part of Persia; but is taken for the whole of Persia, and on this account also the Persians are called Elamites. It is worthy of observation, that, when Isaiah foretold these things, there was no probability of war, and that he was dead a hundred years before there was any apprehension of this calamity. Hence it is sufficiently evident that he could not have derived his information on this subject from any other than the Spirit of God; and this contributes greatly to confirm the truth and certainty of the prediction.

Besiege, O Mede. By commanding the Medes and Persians, he declares that this will not befall the Babylonians at random or by chance, but by the sure decree of God, in whose name, and not in that of any private individual, he makes the announcement. Coming forward therefore in the name of God, he may, like a captain or general, command his soldiers to assemble to give battle. In what manner God employs the agency of robbers and wicked men, has been formerly explained at the tenth chapter. 6666    {Bogus footnote}

I have made all his groaning to cease. Some understand it to mean, that the groaning, to which the Babylonians had given occasion, ceased after they were subdued by the Medes and Persians; for by their tyrannical measures they had caused many to groan, which must happen when wicked and ungodly men possess rank and power. Others approach more closely, perhaps, to the real meaning of the Prophet, when they say, that “the groaning ceased,” because the Babylonians experienced no compassion, having formerly shewn none to others. But I explain it more simply to mean, that the Lord was deaf to their groanings; as if he had said, that there would be no room for their groanings and lamentations, because having been cruel and barbarous, it was just that they should receive back the same measure which they had meted out to others. (Matthew 7:2.)

3. Therefore are my loins, filled with pain. Here the Prophet represents the people as actually present, for it was not enough to have simply foretold the destruction of Babylon, if he had not confirmed the belief of the godly in such a manner that they felt as if the actual event were placed before their eyes. Such a representation was necessary, and the Prophet does not here describe the feelings of his own heart, as if he had compassion on the Babylonians, but, on the contrary, as we have formerly said, 6767    {Bogus footnote} he assumes, for the time, the character of a Babylonian. 6868    {Bogus footnote} It ought undoubtedly to satisfy our minds that the hidden judgments of God are held out to us, as in a mirror, that they may arouse the sluggishness of our faith; and therefore the Prophets describe with greater beauty and copiousness, and paint in lively colors, those things which exceed the capacity of our reason. The Prophet, thus expressing his grief, informs believers how awful is the vengeance of God which awaits the Chaldeans, and how dreadfully they will be punished, as we are struck with surprise and horror when any sad intelligence is brought to us.

As the pangs of a woman that travaileth. He adds a stronger expression of grief, when he compares it to that of a woman in labor, as when a person under fearful anguish turns every way, and writhes in every part of his body. Such modes of expression are employed by the Prophets on account of our sluggishness, for we do not perceive the judgments of God till they be pointed at, as it were, with the finger, and affect our senses. We are warned to be on our guard before they arrive.

4. My heart was shaken. Others render it not amiss, “my heart wandered;” for excessive terror moves the heart, as it were, out of its place. He declares how sudden and unlooked for will be the destruction of Babylon, for a sudden calamity makes us tremble more than one which has been long foreseen and expected. Daniel relates, that what Isaiah here foretells was accomplished, and that he was an eye-witness. Belshazzar had that night prepared a magnificent banquet, when the Persians suddenly rushed upon him, and nothing was farther from his expectation than that he would be slain. High delight was thus suddenly changed into terror. (Daniel 5:30.)

5. Prepare the table. These verbs may be taken for participles; as if he had said, “While they were preparing the table and appointing a guard, while they were eating and drinking, sudden terror arose; there was a call to arms, Arise ye princes,” etc.. But Isaiah presents lively descriptions, so as to place the actual event, as it were, before our eyes. Certainly Xenophon does not describe so historically the storming of the city; and this makes it evident that it was not natural sagacity, but heavenly inspiration, that taught Isaiah to describe so vividly events that were unknown. Besides, we ought to observe the time when these predictions were uttered; for at that time the kingdom of Babylon was in its most flourishing condition, and appeared to have invincible power, and dreaded no danger. Isaiah ridicules this vain confidence, and shews that this power will speedily be laid in ruins.

Let it not be thought absurd that he introduces the watchmen as speaking; for although the siege had not shaken off the slothfulness of a proud and foolish tyrant so as to hinder him from indulging in gaiety and feasting, still there is no room to doubt that men were appointed to keep watch. It is customary indeed with princes to defend themselves by guards, that they may more freely and without any disturbance abandon themselves to every kind of pleasure; but the Prophet expressly mixes up the sentinels with the delicacies of the table, to make it more evident that the wicked tyrant was seized with a spirit of giddiness before he sunk down to drunken reveling. The king of Babylon was thus feasting and indulging in mirth with his courtiers, when he was overtaken by a sudden and unexpected calamity, not that he was out of danger, but because he disregarded and scorned the enemy. The day before it happened, it might have been thought incredible, for the conspiracy of Gobryas, and of that party which betrayed him, had not yet been discovered. At the time when Isaiah spoke, none would have thought that an event so extraordinary would ever take place.

6. For thus hath the Lord said to me. The Prophet is commanded to set a watchman on the watchtower, to see these things at a distance; for they cannot be perceived by the eyes, or learned by conjecture. In order, therefore, that all may know that he did not speak at random, he declares that he foretells these things; for although they are unknown to men, and incredible, yet he clearly and distinctly knows them by the spirit of prophecy, because he is elevated above the judgment of men. This ought to be carefully observed; for we must not imagine that the prophets learned from men, or foresaw by their own sagacity, those things which they made known; and on this account also they were justly called “Seers.” (1 Samuel 9:9.) Though we also see them, yet our sight is dull, and we scarcely perceive what is at our feet; and even the most acute men are often in darkness, because they understand nothing but what they can gather by the use of reason. But the prophets speak by the Spirit of God, as from heaven. The amount of what is stated is, that whosoever shall attempt to measure this prophecy by their own judgment will do wrong, because it has proceeded from God, and therefore it goes far beyond our sense.

Go, appoint a watchman. It gives additional weight that he “appoints a watchman in the name of God.” If it be objected, “You relate incredible things as if they had actually happened,” he replies that he does not declare them at random; for he whom the prince has appointed to be a watchman, sees from a distance what others do not know. Thus Isaiah saw by the revelation of the Spirit what was unknown to others.

7. And he saw a chariot. What he now adds contains a lively description of that defeat. Some think that it is told by the king’s messenger. This is a mistake; for the Prophet, on the contrary, foretells what he has learned from the watchman whom he appointed by the command of God. Here he represents the watchman as looking and reporting what he saw. As if at the first glance he had not seen it clearly, he says that there is “a chariot,” and afterwards observing more closely, he says that there is “a couple of horses” in the chariot. At first, on account of the novelty and great distance of the objects, the report given is ambiguous and confused; but afterwards, when a nearer view is obtained, they are better understood. There is no absurdity in applying to prophets or to divine visions what belongs to men; for we know that God, accommodating himself to our feeble capacity, takes upon himself human feelings.

8. And he cried, A lion. “Having hearkened diligently with much heed,” at length he observes a lion. This is supposed to mean Darius who conquered and pillaged Babylon, as we learn from Daniel. (Daniel 5:28, 31.)

I stand continually. When the watchman says that he is continually on his watchtower by day and by night, this tends to confirm the prediction, as if he had said that nothing can be more certain than this vision; for they whom God has appointed to keep watch are neither drowsy nor dim-sighted. Meanwhile, by this example, he exhorts and stimulates believers to the same kind of attention, that by the help of the lamp of the word, they may obtain a distant view of the power of God.

9. Babylon is fallen, is fallen. This shews plainly that it is not king Belshazzar’s watchman who is introduced, for this speech would be unsuitable to such a character. The Prophet therefore makes known, by the command of God, what would happen. Now, this may refer either to God or to Darius, as well as to the watchman; and it makes little difference as to the meaning, for Darius, being God’s servant in this matter, is not inappropriately represented to be the herald of that judgment. There would be greater probability in referring it to God himself; for Darius had no such thoughts when he overthrew the idols of the Babylonians. But the speech agrees better with the character of a guardian, as if an angel added an interpretation to the prophecy.

And all the graven images of her gods. There is here an implied contrast between the living God and dead idols. This mode of expression, too, deserves notice, when he calls them “images of gods;” for the Babylonians knew, as all idolaters loudly proclaim, that their images are not gods. Yet they ascribed to them divine power, and when this is done, “the truth of God is changed into a lie,” (Romans 1:25,) and not only so, but God himself is denied. But on this subject we shall afterwards speak more largely. Here we see, that by her destruction Babylon was punished for idolatry, for he assigns the reason why Babylon was destroyed. It was because the Lord could not endure that she should glory in her “graven images.”

10. My thrashing, and the son of my floor. 6969    {Bogus footnote} The wealth of that powerful monarchy having dazzled the eyes of all men by its splendor, what Isaiah foretold about its destruction might be reckoned fabulous. He therefore leads their minds to God, in order to inform them that it was God who had undertaken to destroy Babylon, and that it is not by the will of men, but by divine power, that such loftiness will fall to the ground. The “thrashing” and “the son of the floor” mean the same thing; for this mode of expression is frequently employed by Hebrew writers, who often repeat the same statement in different language.

This passage ought to be carefully observed, that we may correct a vice which is natural to us, that of measuring the power of God by our own standard. Not only does our feebleness place us far below the wisdom of God; but we are wicked and depraved judges of his works, and cannot be induced to take any other view of them than of what comes within the reach of the ability and wisdom of men. But we ought always to remember his almighty power, and especially when our own reason and judgment fail us. Thus, when the Church is oppressed by tyrants to such a degree that there appears to be no hope of deliverance, let us know that the Lord will lay them low, and, by trampling on their pride and abasing their strength, will shew that they are his “thrashing-floor;” for the subject of this prediction was not a person of mean rank, but the most powerful and flourishing of all monarchies. The more they have exalted themselves, the more quickly will they be destroyed, and the Lord will execute his “thrashing” upon them. Let us learn that what the Lord has here given as a manifestation of inconceivable ruin, applies to persons of the same stamp.

That which I have heard from the Lord of hosts. When he says that he has “heard it from the Lord of hosts,” he sets a seal, as it were, on his prophecy; for he declares that he has not brought forward his own conjectures, but has received it from the Lord himself. Here it is worthy of our notice, that the servants of God ought to be fortified by this boldness to speak in the name of God, as Peter also exhorts, “He that speaketh, let him speak as the oracles of God.” (1 Peter 4:11.) Impostors also boast of the name of God, but his faithful servants have the testimony of their conscience that they bring forward nothing but what God has enjoined. Observe, also, that this confirmation was highly necessary, for the whole world trembled at the resources of this powerful monarchy.

From the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel. It is not without reason that he gives to God these two appellations. As to the former, it is indeed a title which always applies to God; but here, undoubtedly, the Prophet had his eye on the matter in hand, in order to contrast the power of God with all the troops of the Babylonians; for God has not a single army, but innumerable armies, to subdue his enemies. Again, he calls him “the God of Israel,” because by destroying Babylon he shewed himself to be the defender and guardian of his people; for the overthrow of that monarchy procured freedom for the Jews. In short, all these things were done for the sake of the Church, which the Prophet has here in view; for it is not the Babylonians, who undoubtedly laughed at these predictions, but believers, whom he exhorts to rest assured that, though they were oppressed by the Babylonians, and scattered and tossed about, still God would take care of them.

11. The burden of Dumah. It is evident from Genesis 25:14, that this nation was descended from a son of Ishmael, to whom this name was given, and hence his posterity are called Dumeans. 7070    {Bogus footnote} The cause of their destruction, which is here foretold, cannot be known with certainty, and this prophecy is obscure on account of its brevity. Yet we ought always to remember what I have formerly remarked, that it was proper that the Jews should be fortified against the dreadful stumbling-blocks which were approaching. When so many changes take place, particularly if the world is turned upside down, and if there is a rapid succession of events, we are perplexed and entertain doubts whether all things happen at random and by chance, or are regulated by the providence of God. The Lord therefore shews that it is he who effects this revolution, and renews the state of the world, that we may learn that nothing here is of long duration, and may have our whole heart and our whole aim directed to the reign of Christ, which alone is everlasting.

Since therefore these changes were near at hand, it was proper that the Jews should be forewarned, that when the event followed, they should call them to remembrance, contemplate the wisdom of God, and strengthen their faith. Besides, there is no room to doubt that the Jews were harassed by various thoughts, when they saw the whole world shaken on all sides, and desired to have some means of avoiding those storms and tempests; for we always wish to be in safety and beyond the reach of danger. Some might have wished to find new abodes, that they might better provide for their own safety; but when storms raged on every hand, they were reminded to remain at home, and to believe that no safer habitation could anywhere be found than in the company of the godly.

This example ought also to be a warning to many who separate themselves from the Church through fear of danger, and do not consider that a greater danger awaits them out of it. These thoughts might therefore distress the Jews, for we have seen in the eighth chapter that their minds were restless. 7171    {Bogus footnote} When they were thus tossed about in uncertainty, and fleeing to foreign nations, they would naturally lose heart; and this, I think, is the chief reason why the destruction of the Dumeans is foretold, namely, that the Jews might seek God with their whole heart, and that above all things they might commit to his care the safety of the Church. Let us therefore learn to keep ourselves within the Church, though she be afflicted by various calamities, and let us bear patiently the fatherly chastisements which are inflicted on children, instead of choosing to go astray, that we may drink the dregs which choke the wicked. (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17.) What shall become of strangers and reprobates, if children are thus chastised? (1 Peter 4:17, 18.) Yet it is possible that the chosen people suffered some molestation from the people of God, when their neighbors assailed them on every side.

Out of Seir. Mount Seir, as we learn from the book of Genesis, was a mountain of the Edomites. (Genesis 14:6; 32:3; 36:8, 9.) Under the name of this mountain he includes the whole kingdom. In this place he represents, as in a picture, those things which called for an earnest address.

Watchman, what of the night? It is probable that the Edomites, who put the question, were not at a great distance from them, and that they were solicitous about the danger as one in which they were themselves involved. He introduces them as inquiring at the “watchman,” not through curiosity, but with a view to their own advantage, what he had observed in “the night,” just as when one has asked a question, a second and a third person follow him, asking the same thing. This is the meaning of the repetition, that the inquiry is made not by one individual only, but by many persons, as commonly happens in cases of doubt and perplexity, when every man is afraid on his own account, and does not believe what is said by others.

12. The morning cometh. This means that the anxiety will not last merely for a single day, or for a short time, as if the watchman had replied, “What I tell you to-day, I will tell you again to-morrow; if you are afraid now, you will also be afraid to-morrow.” It is a most wretched condition when men are tortured with anxiety, in such a manner that they hang in a state of doubt between death and life; and it is that dismal curse which the Lord threatens against wicked men by Moses,

“Would that I lived till the evening; and in the evening, would that I saw the dawn!” (Deuteronomy 28:67.)

The godly indeed are beset with many dangers, but they know that they and their life are committed to the hand of God, and even in the jaws of death they see life, or at least soothe their uneasy fears by hope and patience. But the wicked always tremble, and not only are tormented by alarm, but waste away in their sorrows.

Return, come. These words may be explained in two ways; either that if they run continually, they will lose their pains, or in this way, “If any among you be more careful, let them go to Dumah, and there let them tremble more than in their native country, for nowhere will they be safe.” But since God always takes care of his Church, nowhere shall we find a safer retreat, even though we shall compass sea and land.

13. The burden upon Arabia. He now passes on to the Arabians, and foretells that they too, in their own turn, will be dragged to the judgment-seat of God; so that he does not leave unnoticed any of the nations which were known to the Jews. He declares that they will be seized with such fear that they will leave their houses and flee into the woods; and he states the direction in which they will flee, that is, to “Dedanim.”

14. To meet the thirsty bring waters. 7272    {Bogus footnote} He heightens the description of that trembling with which the Lord had determined to strike the Arabians in such a manner that they thought of nothing but flight, and did not take time even to collect those things which were necessary for the journey. Isaiah therefore declares that the Arabians will come into the country of Dedanim, empty and destitute of all things, and that they will not be provided with any food. On this account he exhorts the inhabitants to go out and meet them with bread and water, because otherwise they will faint through the want of the necessaries of life.

I am aware that this passage is explained differently by some commentators, who think that the Prophet mocks at the Arabians, who had been cruel and barbarous towards the Jews; as if he had said, “How gladly you would now bring water to the thirsty!” But that exposition is too constrained. And yet I do not deny that they received the reward of their cruelty, when they ran hither and thither in a state of hunger. But the meaning which I have given is twofold, 7373    {Bogus footnote} that the Arabians in their flight will be so wretched that they will not even have the necessary supply of water, and they will therefore faint with thirst, if they do not quickly receive assistance; and he intimates that there will be a scarcity both of food and of drink. He calls on the neighbors to render assistance; not to exhort them to do their duty, but to state the fact more clearly; and he enjoins them to give their bread to them, not because it is deserved, but because they are suffering extreme want. Yet as it is founded on the common law of nature and humanity, the Prophet indirectly insinuates that the hungry and thirsty are defrauded of their bread, when food is denied to them.

15. For they flee from the face of the swords. 7474    {Bogus footnote} He means that the calamity will be dreadful, and that the Arabians will have good reason for betaking themselves to flight, because the enemies will pursue them with arms and with swords, so that they will have no other way of providing for their safety than by flight. The reason why he foretells this defeat is plain enough; for it was necessary that the Jews should obtain early information of that which should happen long after, that they might learn that the world is governed by the providence of God and not by chance, and likewise that they should be taught by the example of others to behold God as the judge of all nations, wherever they turned their eyes. We do not know, and history does not inform us, whether or not the Arabians were enemies of the Jews. However that may be, it is certain that these things are spoken for the consolation of the godly, that they may behold the justice of God towards all nations, and may acknowledge that his judgment-seat is at Jerusalem, from which he will pronounce judgment on the whole world.

16. For thus hath the Lord said to me. He adds that this defeat of the Arabians, of which he prophesied, is close at hand; which tended greatly to comfort the godly. We are naturally fiery, and do not willingly allow the object of our desire to be delayed; and the Lord takes into account our weakness in this respect, when he says that he hastens his work. He therefore declares that he prophesies of things which shall happen, not after many ages, but immediately, that the Jews may bear more patiently their afflictions, from which they know that they will be delivered in a short time.

Yet a year according to the years of the hireling. Of the metaphor of “the year of the hireling,” which he adds for the purpose of stating the matter more fully, we have already spoken. 7575    {Bogus footnote} It means that the time will not be delayed. The same comparison is used by heathen authors, where they intend to describe a day appointed and desired; as appears from that passage in Horace, “The day appears long to those who must render an account of their work.” 7676    {Bogus footnote}

17. And the residue of the archers. He threatens that this slaughter will not be the end of their evils, because if there be any residue in Arabia, they will gradually decrease; as if he had said, “The Lord will not merely impoverish the Arabians by a single battle, but will pursue to the very utmost, till all hope of relief is taken away, and they are utterly exterminated.” Such is the vengeance which he executes against the ungodly, while he moderates the punishment which he inflicts on the godly, that they may not be entirely destroyed.

Of the mighty men. He means warlike men and those who were fit to carry arms, and says, that although they escaped that slaughter, still they will be cut off at their own time. He formerly threatened similar chastisements against the Jews, but always accompanied by a promise which was fitted to alleviate their grief or at least to guard them against despair. It frequently happens that the children of God are afflicted as severely as the reprobate, or even with greater severity; but the hope of favor which is held out distinguishes them from the whole world. Again, when we learn that God visits on the wicked deadly vengeance, this is no reason why we should be immoderately grieved even at the heaviest punishments; but, on the contrary, we ought to draw from it this consolation, that he chastises them gently, and “does not give them over to death.” (Psalm 118:18.)

The God of Israel hath spoken it. The Prophet shews, as we have frequently remarked on former occasions, that we ought not only to acknowledge that these things happened by divine appointment, but that they were appointed by that God whom Israel adores. All men are sometimes constrained to rise to the acknowledgment of God, though they are disposed to believe in chance, because the thought that there is a God in heaven comes into their minds, whether they will or not, and that both in prosperity and in adversity; but then they imagine a Deity according to their own fancy, either in heaven or on earth. Since therefore irreligious men idly and foolishly imagine a God according to their own pleasure, the Prophet directs the Jews to that God whom they adore, that they may know the distinguished privilege which they enjoy in being placed under his guardianship and protection. Nor is it enough that we adore some God as governor of the world, but we must acknowledge the true God, who revealed himself to the fathers, and hath manifested himself to us in Christ. And this ought to be earnestly maintained, in opposition to the profane thoughts of many persons who contrive some strange and confused notion of a Deity, because they dare not openly deny God.




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